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on 2 April 2017
I was looking forward to trying a new Scandinavian detective novel. I was neither disappointed or set on fire by this story. Not enough twists and turns and willingness for me. However, the lead detective was likable.
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on 12 July 2017
This is my first novel by Arnaldur Indridason. It gives a differe nt insight into nordic thrillers. Can't make out what was so gripping, either the style of writing or the plot itself. Anyhow, I did enjoy it.
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on 9 April 2017
As a fan of everything Icelandic I enjoyed this soft and human saga. Scandi noir with lots of shading towards blue and pink.
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on 26 September 2014
Three stars first time I've read any books by this author it was ok nothing exciting but will try another one
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on 18 August 2017
Great start to the series
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on 4 February 2015
A great addition to the Scandinavia noir.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 11 April 2006
One of my major problems with many police procedurals is that the plots often go completely off the deep end and become wildly improbable messes (among Scandinavian authors, I think Henning Mankell is frequently guilty of this). So, it's somewhat refreshing to come across a relatively straightforward story like this award-winning series debut from Iceland. In it, we are introduced to Detective Inspector Erlendur, a classic 50ish, divorced, rumpled, morose, tactless, and running-to-seed character who nonetheless possesses the requisite instinct to be a top detective. Although he lacks some of the perfunctory traits often assigned to such characters (for example, he isn't a gourmand, or jazz aficionado, or anything like that), he's very much in the mold of Sejer, Rebus, Resnick, and other such policemen protagonists.

We meet Erlendur as he is called in to investigate the apparent murder of an elderly man in Reykjavik. It doesn't take long for the police to discover that the old man was a nasty character who had been accused of rape almost 40 years ago. With little to go on, other than the possibility that it was a random break-in gone wrong, Erlendur leads his team deep into the past, to try and uncover who might have had a motive for killing the old man. The further they dig, the more nasty secrets they uncover, and the more they must engage in very uncomfortable interviews that dredge up hidden pain. The plot and solution hinge on an aspect of Icelandic society that is rather unique, and it's nice to see the author taking advantage of this to good effect. Another subplot (which is rather extraneous) involves a runaway bride, and meanwhile, Erlendur must also try to deal with his drug addict daughter who flits in and out of his life. Their relationship is quite interesting, and possibly the most compelling reason to seek out the next book in the series (Silence of the Grave).

In terms of supporting characters, Erlendur's two main colleagues fail to leave much of an impression: there's the yuppie Sigurdur Óli, and Elínborg, whose main trait is that she's a woman. Hopefully they will be developed a good deal more in subsequent books, as will Erlendur's mysterious mentor Marion. Having been to Iceland for a few days several years ago, I certainly recognized the bleak weather and its constant presence in the lives of the characters. However, it would have been nice to get a little more description of Reykjavik, which is a very interesting looking place, and its people. There's not a lot of local color, and the result is a setting that is at times rather anonymous. The overall tone of the book is somewhat sad and bleak. Overall, an solid and interesting debut, but not anything that's going to blow you away.
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on 8 March 2017
Originally translated in 2004, Jar City is the third of the Detective Erlendur Sveinsson series of police procedural novels, although the first to be translated into English and served as the introduction to Arnaldur Indridsson's distinctive and compassionate lead character for many readers. On first inspection, Detective Erlendur seems to have many similarities with Kurt Wallander (Mankell) and Van Veeteren (Nesser), from their solitary lives, broken marriages and messy divorces through to their less than straightforward relationships with their troubled children. Erlendur survives on microwaved ready meals, smokes too much and after nearly two decades of divorce his ex-wife still refuses to speak to him. He is not coping much better with his drug-addicted daughter, Eva Lind, a continuing source of angst. At times coarse and malicious, at others times vulnerable and naive her drug-addled state and inability to quit narcotics take on an added urgency when she reveals she is pregnant.

October in Reykjavik accompanied by relentless rain and Detective Erlendur and his two colleagues, Sigurdur Óli and female Elínborg find themselves dispatched to a sixty-nine-year-old man's basement flat located in the district of Nordurmyri. On first impressions it appears a senseless murder of an elderly man, Holberg, with the blood smattered glass ashtray the weapon of choice. With the door left wide open and the cryptic hand written note, 'I am HIM', left atop of the body the perpetrator offers a telling insight into a murderer's mindset, frustratingly it takes until just under half-way through the novel before these three words are spelt out to readers. Neighbours offer no obvious ideas but colleague, Hilmar, mentions Holberg's anxiety surrounding a series of recent phone calls to his home. It soon turns out that the victim was no model citizen being charged with rape but never convicted in 1963 and with a stash of hard-core porn videos stored on his computer hard drive. With very few personal effects in the flat the discovery of a black and white and somewhat faded photo of a child's grave in wintertime is found slipped beneath the bottom of a locked drawer with a headstone bearing the inscription "Audur (1964-68). Erlendur believes the note suggests some loaded motive and the possibility of a relationship or connection between perpetrator and victim. As he re-examines the original rape claim made by the mother of Audur he soon finds that the investigation was mishandled and in tune with the prevailing tendency of the era to believe the male rather than the female party. The glimpses portraying the original rape investigation of Kolbrún and the insensitive handling by the police does nothing to aid Erlendur he is given a flea in the ear by the now deceased Kolbrún's sister, Elín, when he dares to pursue the question of Audur's paternity. Was Audur the product of rape? When he manages to find one of the men who accompanied Holberg on the evening of the rape, jail-bird Ellidi there seems little doubt of Holberg's guilt but his subsequent boasting of a similar incident with another female in Húsavík raises more questions, whilst the twenty-five-year disappearance of the other man from that night, Grétar, is more mystifying.

As Erlendur determines to verify the question of paternity of Audur he looks into the exact nature of her death at just four-years-old and reluctantly demands an exhumation and second autopsy but is confounded by the discovery of a missing organ. Simultaneously pursuing the search for another victim of the despicable Holberg, Detective Erlendur and his team find themselves led to the Genetic Research Centre and increasingly looking back to the specifics of Audur's death. Could Audur provide the answer to this curious mystery? It isn't all plain sailing for Erlendur as he counters the claims of his two colleagues that they cannot see where his stubborn and dogged focus on the matter is headed, but with his experience, Detective Erlendur is a match for anyone.

The slightly more light-hearted and off-record probing regarding a bride, Dísa Rós, who has upped and fled the marital home is of secondary concern to Erlendur, but at his ex-wife's behest he goes to see her anxious parents and the groom. His dismay at what he discovers once again comes down to the age old problem of the mistakes of the past coming full circle and has ominous echoes of the murder investigation at hand.

An added pleasure of a throughly convincing police procedural over and above the empathetic and thoughtful handling of the investigators was the Icelandic details, from the use of first names throughout the police hierarchy through to the idiosyncratic genetics programme which allows familial relations to be traced, both within hospitals and within the judicial system. Whilst the murder under investigation doesn't overly stretch the boundaries of a police procedural novel, Jar City is a well-crafted novel, but perhaps somewhat too linear in the rather straightforward progression from one question to the next. If anything, this level of simplicity is somewhat far-fetched, but this style does make for a clever analysis of the often devastating repercussions of the scars of the past. The sardonically humorous undertone is weaved throughout the novel and I look forward to the discovery of another gripping must read series for fans of Nordic noir crime.

Review written by Rachel Hall (@hallrachel)
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 November 2015
Jar City is the third of Arnaldur Indriđason’s Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson books, but the first to be translated into English, by the late Bernard Scudder, 1954-2007. Scudder was a translator whose name was as much a recommendation as that of his Icelandic author.

This is a dark procedural book that establishes the character of Inspector Erlander, a workaholic whose family have suffered as a result. He has only seen his ex-wife once in 20 years and his children both have serious abuse problems. Eva Lind, his daughter, features in this book and one of its many strengths is Arnuldur’s description of their fraught relationship. There is a beautiful contrast between the rash, rebellious apparently self-destructive daughter and her introspective father, fifty-something, untidy, a chain smoker who suffers chest pains and gobbles whatever convenience food he can microwave. Both clearly want to improve matters between them but cannot give up their long-established independence.

The book opens with Erlendur and his team, Detectives Elínborg and Sigurdur Óli, being called to a ‘pathetic Icelandic murder’ of a 69-year old truck driver, Holberg. The opening sentences are ‘The words were written in pencil on a piece of paper placed on top of the body. Three words, incomprehensible to Erlendur.’ Tantalisingly, it is only on p. 142 that the reader is given the message.

Through a great deal of drudgingly boring police work that both his colleagues question, Erlendur begins to piece together Holberg’s very unsavoury history that leads to further questionings of people, mainly women, who really do not want to talk to the police. This is a very dark book, not least when Erlendur and Sigurdur Óli visit one of Holberg’s friends, Ellidi, a psychopathic sadist imprisoned in solitary confinement. Rarely has the threat and reality of violence been so graphically portrayed.

The relationships between the police officers emerges very slowly and Arnuldur describes the disquiet the Elíborg experiences when she feels that her superior is questioning women too forcefully about possible rape and abuse. The descriptions of a corrupt retired policeman and of Erlendur’s contempt for him also take this book out of the ordinary. Erlendur owes much to the training he received from the shadowy Marion Briem, who was involved in earlier investigations into Holberg’s activities. Arnuldur toys with the reader over Briem’s gender – when asked ‘Who is this Marion? What kind of name is that anyway? Is it a man or a woman?’ Erlendur enigmatically replies ‘I sometimes wonder myself.’

The scientific and forensic aspects of the story are crucial to its successful resolution and the author/translator are excellent in their clear exposition of complex issues. Whilst Erlendur is the leader, and backs his hunches and experience, the investigation is very much a team effort.

As the storyline develops the reader is taking to the Icelandic Genetic Research Centre, housing a database of the population’s medical records, where ‘the main aim was to discover how hereditary illnesses were transmitted, study them genetically and find ways to cure them, and other diseases if possible. It was said that the homogenous nation and lack of miscegenation made Iceland a living laboratory for genetic research.’ More informal are the remains of an unofficial collection of medical specimens – the Jar City of the title. Both raise ethical questions for Erlendur and for the reader.

As a stand-alone story this book might lack action, although to a degree this is provided by scenes that take place four decades earlier but which provide the basis for the investigation’s resolution. In addition to the major storylines of the murder and Eva Lind, there is another involving the disappearance of a bride [the delightfully-named Dísa Rós] on her wedding day that impinges on Erlendur and his daughter.

The claustrophobic Icelandic backdrop is deftly portrayed, largely through the appalling weather and, for once, the violence – though explicit – is an integral element of the storyline. A number of helpful maps are included at the front of the book to facilitate navigating between Norðurmýri, Hallgrimskir, Húsavík and Stykkishólmur. The minor characters are shaded in tones of grey rather than the frequently simplistic black and white.

The two books about Erlendur that precede Jar City [which was published in Icelandic in 2000], Sons of Dust, 1997, and Silent Kill, 1998, have not yet been translated into English. I wonder why?
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on 9 October 2017
When an elderly man is found battered to death, the absence of clues leads the team of detectives to delve deep into his past. The story that unfolds is clever and unusual, but I feel the plotting could be tighter. The police seem to follow hunches without much evidence to back them up and fail to ask the obvious questions when interviewing witnesses. Despite this, I enjoyed it. It moved along nicely and it wasn’t until quite near the end that I was able to pull all the threads together and work out what had happened.

It isn’t true to life - crime stories rarely are - but there is an emotional truth contained in the book and the ending was particularly poignant. I’ve read one of the later books in the series and will definitely be looking out for more.
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